CASPER, Wyo.— Christian Bjorklund's mother said middle school Nordic ski team transformed her son in a matter of months.
Kathy Walker told the Natrona County School District board of trustees that she'd begged Christian to join the team while he was struggling through school and socially. Coaches and the sport helped him become more confident.
"They gave him the ability to see the potential in him that he could not see," she said.
On Jan. 28, Bjorklund was doing the pleading, along with more than two dozen other students, parents and skiing enthusiasts. They asked trustees for help to save the middle school Nordic team.
Changes to the district's activities budget this year mean the high school Nordic ski team can no longer carry the middle school program — even though many middle school students love and benefit from the sport, they said.
The popularity of the program is what's now endangering it.
It was fine in 1998 when a handful of middle school tagalongs joined the high school skiers at practices and meets. But those tagalongs now number 88, a full-fledged team.
As more middle school skiers joined, the high schools asked for additional money from a common pot all schools once shared for activities. But last year, each school was given its own budget based on numbers of students and activities, according to Terry Hooker, NCSD's athletics and activities manager.
Figuring out how to divvy up the costs, because team members hail from different schools, will be one of the challenges as stakeholders and officials work on a way to save the team, he said.
Bringing schools together is part of what makes the team so special, students said.
"Putting this team under — you'd be tearing apart a family almost," Bjorklund said.
Skylar Eades, a seventh-grade honor student, said she wants to keep preparing for high school skiing.
"Nordic skiing helps me gain physical and mental strength," Eades said.
Parent Megan Bennett wore jackets from her two years in high school on the National Ski Team, for which she credited her hometown middle school skiing program.
"Please keep these students' dreams alive so they can become the person they want to be," she said.
Nordic skiing is unique in that boys, girls and all skill levels can participate, team supporters told trustees.
"It's a sport where you can say you got last . but you can actually feel great that you passed the finish line," Taylar Jackett said.
A mother of a special needs student said skiing gives her daughter something she can enjoy with others, unlike other school sports.
Supporters pleaded on behalf of younger students looking forward to skiing.
Katherine Gruner said skiing makes her feel like she can do anything, and she wants her little sister to know what it's like to ski on a team when she reaches middle school in two years.
Kelly Walsh High School student Samantha Harmon works with younger skiers excited about middle school.
"I just think that if you took that away from them, think how heartbroken they would be," Harmon said. "They really want to do it."
Parents also said they recently learned about a rule that overnight middle school athletic trips aren't allowed. However, Superintendent Joel Dvorak suspended the rule so a group of the middle school skiers wouldn't have to cancel their trip to ski at Soldier Hollow resort in Utah last weekend.
Parents asked trustees to look into the discrepancy between that rule and another that allows middle school overnight field trips with principal permission for special circumstances.
It recently came to light that some of the middle school skiers have been traveling with the high school teams, Hooker said. There never has been a budget for middle school overnight athletic trips. With limited resources, the high school students' traveling needs must come first, he added.
Factors other than money also figure into the rule, including absences for trips and whether or not a middle-level team should be seen as a more competitive, traveling team, Hooker added. He believes a solution will be reached that works for all involved.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com